Challenge #25

16 May

Challenge #25 is currently under way. This challenge was to cook every recipe from one cookbook. The inspiration for this came from a film called Julie and Julia, that I saw and is based on a true story. A bored New Yorker (Julie) decides to cook all 524 recipes from Julia Childs’ “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” in a year.

My challenge is not so daring. There was no way that I was going to choose such a long and complex book to cook but I thought it was an interesting challenge because: don’t we all have at least one cookbook at home that we have tried only a handful of recipes from?

Because I was new to being a vegan, I decided (with the persuasion of my friend, Stefan) that a vegan cookbook would be a book to chose. Then I could use recipes from book during my three months of being vegan. The book I chose is called Vegan on the Go. I don’t consider this cheating – I still have to cook all of the 100 plus dishes.

If you make a quick calculation, 100 dishes into 90-ish days means that I should be able to complete this easily in the time that my other challenge is running.

In practice, this hasn’t really happened. If I make a salad for lunch, I will make it to have for a couple of days. To cook 100 dishes while I am working full-time is also difficult because some of the recipes take a while to prepare. 14 of the dishes are desserts so these can’t be eaten for breakfast or lunch, even if I want to.

So, I will be cooking as many of the recipes in the coming months and then finishing off with the rest later.

Here is my progress so far:

Spinach and Banana Smoothie – I have had a lot of smoothies and this one was very similar to what I normally make. I did substitute the orange for grapefruit as we had this ingredient at home and needed to use it.

Guacamole – this is one of my favourites and the recipe was very similar to the one that I normally use.

Hummus – again I have made this a lot in the past and the recipe was almost the same as what I normally use.

Brocolli cakes with Mango and Avocado Salsa – I made these and put them on the grill and they were really easy to make. I was a bit worried that they would disintegrate during cooking but they didn’t. The salsa was delicious and I have made that again to have with grilled vegetables.

Gazpacho –  this took ages to make. I had to peel fresh tomatoes, deseed and core them. It took a long time and the kitchen looked like a bomb had gone off after I had finished. The result was good. It was the first time that I had even eaten Gazpacho. I enjoyed it, especially as we ate it on the balony in the sunshine.

Brocolli Cream Soup – in case you are wondering the cream in the soup was coconut milk, which does not come from a cow. Brocolli and Stilton is one of my favourite soups but this was a nice alternative. I would happily make this again and again.

Creamed Carrot Soup – again this was made with coconut milk. The recipe also had ginger in it which gave the soup a refreshing kick to it. Delicious!

Spicy Quinoa Chilli – I made this back in November last year. The recipe is basically the same as a chilli with meat but the meat is substituted with Quinoa. I made far too much of it and was eating it for about four days. It was a good job that it was nice or it would have ended up in the bin!

Panzanella (Italian Bread Salad) – I’ve made this a couple of times to take into work with me. It is so easy to make and so tasty as well. The receipe says to take the dressing in a bottle and then add it to the salad. I had to take an unused travel shampoo bottle with me because we didn’t have any small bottles to transport the dressing. Putting the bottle in the dishwasher was a mistake because it was too hot and the bottle melted a bit.

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Sweet Potato Burgers with BBQ sauce – as I am yet to find a vegan BBQ sauce in Switzerland and I am not a huge fan of it anyway, I missed this bit of the recipe out. The burger was easy to make. The main ingredients were sweet potato, courgette and breadcrumbs. It really didn’t take too long to make. I now have to convinced my boyfriend that these are worthy of a regular place on our BBQ.

Sweetcorn frittatas with Mango Chutney –  this was a bit messy to make. You have to salt and then squeeze water out of the courgettes which takes time. The actual making of the mixture was pretty straight forward and they were cooked quickly. I made a jar of the chutney because we had two large mangoes to use and I thought it would be nice to have with other dishes like a curry or on the side of a salad. I think I was heavy-handed with the curry powder but apart from that it was delicious. I served it with salad as well.

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Asparagus Quiche – rather than make a one large quiche, I made four smaller ones so that I could take them into work. I cheated slightly because I didn’t make the pasty myself but used shop-bought vegan pastry instead. I should have added chillis to the filling but there weren’t any in the shop, so I used chilli flakes instead. I think the fresh chilli would have enhanced the flavour but it still tasted good.

Fruity Macadamia Cream – I made this back in November as well. I didn’t like the texture of it. Maybe I hadn’t blitzed the macadamica nuts enough but the others said that they liked it. I wouldn’t make this again, unless I had to.

12 recipes from just over 100 done!

 

One month down…

13 May

It has already been one month since I started my vegan challenge. The past four weeks have flown by (while I have mainly been in the kitchen preparing things to eat) As I predicted last week, I have now hit a plateau with my enthusiasm of trying new recipes. So, this week I haven’t many any new or exciting things to eat. Here is what my week was like…

Eating Out

I didn’t eat out at all this week because our day to go for a team lunch fell on a bank holiday. I was quite glad of this because we have already exhausted a hefty chunk of the restaurants that are within walking distance of the office.

Supermarket-bought sandwiches

I found myself getting really annoyed this week when the choice of sandwiches in the local supermarket was virtually zero at 12.10pm. I am pretty convinced that the meat-eating population are taking a few vegan sandwiches on the sly and leaving very little choice for vegans. Luckily, I spotted right at the back of the chiller a falafel burger, which I took with me to the park to eat. I like falafel. I like burgers. But I wasn’t convinced it was relatively dry, despite the huge serving of beetroot on the top of it, and took quite a bit of chewing. The weather outside in a little garden that I discovered last week made it palatable.

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BBQ

Our BBQ game is still going strong and I think it will stay that way until the weather decides to change. Along with the usual suspects this week we have also grilled sweet potato. My boyfriend surprised me on Friday when I came home to homemade vegan spring rolls. He did confess that he hadn’t made these but that they were gifted to us by a friend of the family who owns and runs a Thai food stand. We didn’t cook the spring rolls on the grill but ate them outside with grilled vegetables and salad as the sun was setting.

Family celebration

My boyfriend’s dad had a birthday this weekend so the whole family went round for a dinner on Saturday afternoon. I was worried about how I was going to manage with the food aspect and offered to bring my own food with me. Apart from missing out on having a slice of birthday cake, I didn’t feel I was missing out at all. I actually felt really full by the end of the evening.

Weight loss

I had the feeling that I have lost a bit of weight. My boyfriend bought some scales because we didn’t have any. It turns out that I have lost more than a bit of weight – more than 5 kilos or 11 pounds (if you are imperially inclined). It was a bit of a shock, especially as I haven’t feel hungry or as though I have been denying myself for the last four week. And I have been out of action in a sporty sense because of a knee injury. So all of that weight loss has purely come from eating better. I have been trying for at least the last couple of years to lose some weight and it looks like I have managed it without even realising.

Just two more months to go!

Plastic? Not fantastic

9 May

I read an article last week on the BBC website about a woman who tried to live for a month without using plastic. I thought this was a little bit crazy (which is rich coming from someone who voluntarily is attempting to switch to a vegan diet for three months).

Every week when we come back from the supermarket, we spend at least five minutes unwrapping things that have been unnecessarily been wrapped in plastic that can’t be recycled. I don’t understand why fruits like strawberries come in plastic tubs with lids when years ago they were packaged in punnets made out of wood or cardboard. Surely it be better for sellers to used cardboard that consumers can recycle.

The most ridiculous example I have ever seen was in Tesco. Two large baking potatoes were wrapped in cellophane. Surely, it is more convenient to have a sign that says: “Take two potatoes for 50p”? Perhaps the management think that their customers will not be able to understand the sign.

I never now put carrots, apples or bananas in a bag before weighing them. I just weigh them and put the stick on one of the carrots, for example. The people at the check-out know that you have weighed all of the items and if they don’t believe you they can always check that the weight is the same as what is printed out on the label. [A short note: in Switzerland, you have to weigh the fresh produce on a scale and take them to the check-out. It isn’t like the UK, where this is done by the check-out operator on a set of scales that they have built into the till]

The woman in the article managed to only use 43 items of plastic over the course of the month which, when you considered that she had a family, is unbelievably impressive. I am not sure that we would be able to do that.

We did recently discover a couple of farm shops near us where it is possible to take all of your own containers. You take what you want and then leave the money in a jar. One of the shops is even open on Sunday which is a rarity in Switzerland but very handy for us to know in case we need anything when the rest of the shops are closed.

I do have a bad conscious about how much we buy that we can’t recycle. I have even started to compost our food waste, which means that the bin doesn’t smell and we have less rubbish. But, in reality, it is large supermarkets who need to think about making their package more environmentally-friendly. I personally think that the governments should put pressure on supermarkets but until that time comes (and it could be a very long time) I will be trying to reduce my use of plastic to as little as possible.

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3 weeks in

6 May

Three weeks in and my challenge is still going well. This week I ate out a total of four times (yes, four) and managed not to starve as well as go to a BBQ on a bank holiday. Here is my week in food…

Aubergine

If we are what we eat, I am dangerously close to waking up next week as a n aubergine. I have made Moroccan aubergine dip called Zaalouk, Aubergine Schnitzel, grilled aubergine, Aubergine Rollmops and a Turkish dish called Imam Bayildi- I’ve never been a huge fan of aubergine; partly because I have never known what to do with it apart from put it in a curry. But there are so many things you can do it. I might lay off in for a few weeks though before I create an aubergine shortage in Central Europe.

Recommendations

My friend Araz recommended the Turkish dish. My dear God it was so tasty and so simple to make. I will definitely be making it again and long after my challenge is over. Although I am definitely not going hungry on this diet, I’m always very open to recommendations so if you know of any vegan recipes please feel free to let me know!

Eating out

I had brunch with a writing friend. I was so jealous of her delicious bread topped with egg and cottage cheese. Thank god she didn’t order anything with bacon! I might have done or said something that I regretted. I had a delicious and healthy açai bowl full of fruity goodness, which was the only vegan option on the menu.

I had lunch during the week with the recruiter who placed me at my new job. He wanted to catch up and see how the first few weeks in the new place were going. Going to a very good Italian restaurant where they serve incredible but non-vegan pizzas and pastas for you to ask if you can have the goats cheese salad without the goats cheese was incredible difficult! I got a very strange look from the waiter but hey-ho, that’s life!

I also met a friend, who initially wanted to go to an all-you-can-eat pizza place. She was good about finding somewhere else to go instead. We went to a place called The Artisan which grows a lot of its own ingredients in the garden outside the restaurant and has a lot of vegan options. I had the vegan burger which came with homemade vegan cheese and a vegan ice cream. I was very happy when I left.

For team lunch, I suggested a Morrocan place where I had a nice salad and vegetable couscous. I am not sure if many of the other liked it but I definitely did. To be honest I was just happy to be able to have something off the menu.

May Day BBQ

The first of May was a bank holiday in Switzerland and I was invited to a BBQ. I was nervous about going because I would have to tell yet more people that I was being vegan “for fun” for a while. I was surprised that we had a interesting and funny discussion about my challenge (and the other challenges that I will be doing). I took along a sweet potato burger, sweetcorn frittas and mango chutney that I had made at home. Mark was very sweet and offered to cook my burger before the others so that I didn’t get the fat from the sausages, chicken and steak that other people had brought along. This was a crying shame because I was hoping that some of the flavours from the other food would make its way to my burger! Only joking! My food was delicious and for once I didn’t have food envy. I also go my very own vegan cupcakes to finish the meal that Stefan had made just for me!

Tied to the kitchen

I seem to be spending most of my weekend in the kitchen preparing and making things. I am enjoying trying new things but I’m not sure if I can carry on with such passion for the next 9 weeks. It would be nice just to grab something from the supermarket and warm it up. I also feel like I am taking a step back for woman-kind by spending so much time in the room that they have been trying to get out of. I have a line from Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin’s Sisters are Doin’ It for Themselves (“They’re coming out of the kitchen and they’ve got something to say to you!”) on a constant loop in my head. But actually I’m really enjoying it so I will be staying there for the time being!

Photo an Hour: 28th April 2018

29 Apr

I have missed the last two Photo An Hour days because I was on holiday in South America. For the February edition, I actually landed in Buenos Aires at 6am and was so excited to be there that I completely forgot. For the March edition, I think we were transferring from one country to another which possibly wouldn’t be so interesting to photograph.

Now back in Switzerland with no distractions and a few helpful reminders on my phone, here is what I got up to on 28th April 2018.

7am: it’s early and it’s quiet so I decide to read some more of my book. I’m reading Crime by Irvine Welsh at the moment.

8am: Making a spot of breakfast: on the left scrambled eggs for him, on the right a vegan “scrambled egg” made from tofu, turmeric, chilli and coriander

9am: It looks like the weather will be nice today

10am: Writing a few posts for my blog

11am: Time for German homework

12pm: Snack time

1pm: Forgot to put the dishwasher on this morning!

2pm: Decided to label all the jars we have in the cupboard so we know what is in what, especially with the different types of flour

3pm: Someone (not me!) has fallen asleep so I will go back to doing some reading

4pm: Time to use the one gadget I have bought this year and go for a run

5pm: Back from run looking like a beetroot but need to do my exercises for my knee

6pm: Homemade dips to have with our grilled vegetables later

7pm: The sun has gone in but the BBQ is ready! All homemade apart from the bread!

8pm: We are watching The Godfather

9pm: We are still watching The Godfather

10pm: Time to write my diary before going to bed

Staying strong

28 Apr

Two weeks into my vegan challenge and I am still going strong. This week has been a bit more difficult because we had a team dinner on Thursday but I managed to enjoy the evening and some food without too much hassle.

I have to say that I generally am feeling pretty good. I am sleeping better but I am not sure if this is because of the diet or just because I am more tired this week and I have slept better. But I have heard that sleeping better is one of the positive side effects of a vegan diet. I don’t think that I have lost weight (which is another health benefit, if you need to lose a few pounds) but we don’t have a pair of scales at home so I can’t be sure.

Anyway, here are some of the highs and lows from this week.

Soups

Soups are one of my favourite things to eat and it is easy to make a homemade vegan soup at home. Last Sunday it felt like I spent most of the day making soup. I made a Gazpacho soup, a Spanish soup that is served cold. Apparently this is one of my boyfriend’s favourites –  who knew? Luckily it got the seal of approval from him but it was fairly time consuming to make. I’m not sure that I would make it again unless I found a simpler recipe. I also made a carrot, ginger and coriander soup using carrots from our garden, which I put in the freeze for a week in the future, and a broccoli soup to eat during the week after work so that I don’t have to spend a lot of time preparing something. I must say that the broccoli soup was delicious. An absolute favourite of mine is Stilton and Broccoli soup which is off-limits but I didn’t miss the cheese at all.

Packed lunches

Taking packed lunches into work has been a life saver because there isn’t a huge variety of vegan-friendly sandwiches and salad available in supermarkets. So long as you plan in advance, a homemade pack lunch is perfect. I made an Italian bread salad to have twice this week at work. It was really easy to make and I even made the croutons for the “bread” art of the salad. It didn’t take any time at all to make and, because the weather has been so warm, I sat outside in the park and enjoyed my lunch there.

Although the choice for sandwiches isn’t huge, I have discovered that there is a vegan range in Coop (one of the supermarkets in Switzerland) which has some really nice vegan wraps. As I ran out of time to make all my packed lunches this week, I tried the hummus wrap and was really impressed by it.

Recipes

The soups and the Italian bread salad have all come from my vegan cookbook which has not only given me some great recipes but also ideas about how I can make substitutions in my own cooking. Some of the recipes are a bit complicated and they require quite a few ingredients but I am slowly building up a good range of ingredients to draw upon in our cupboards. Again with the recipes, as with everything else, you need the time to plan and to make the dishes. I have already realised that I need to find a lot more alternatives or I will find that the diet becomes very boring very quickly.

The first BBQ

Although we can’t grill meat on the grill, we can grill vegetables! We had our first BBQ of 2018 last weekend and we didn’t go hungry. I made a spicy salsa, a guacemole, salad and a huge variety of vegetables. It was delicious! I was keen to try making a lentil burger to go on the grill but Markus wasn’t so keen. It remains on my to-do list and we will definitely be trying it one day soon.

Team event

On Thursday we had a team event at a very nice restaurant in Zürich. Not many of the team know that I have taken up a vegan diet and I’m not sure what they will think when I say that I am doing in voluntarily. There are lots of vegan restaurants in Zürich but this wasn’t one of them. It turned out the only thing I could have was a salad which grilled vegetables. I checked that the house dressing wasn’t made with milk, cream or honey. It was cruel to watch everyone else tucking into a medium rare steak or fish but I genuinely enjoyed what I ordered. I cringed when someone mentioned having a dessert but then I saw that they had a mango sorbet on the menu and it made me smile. The choice available to me was limited but I still enjoyed the evening.

40 Before 40: Challenge #8

25 Apr

I am now starting to get a bit panicked about completing this challenge, which is to watch the Top 250 Films on iMDB. And I have another four and a half years to complete it. The problem is that I need to watch another 160 films, which works out at about one film per week on average. That sounds manageable, right? In actual fact, there are quite a lot of films on the list that I know are going to be emotionally painful for me to sit through because I have no interest in watching them; for example, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which someone once lent me on DVD but I actually fell asleep during them so I can’t honestly say that I have watched them from start to finish.

Also I know that if I don’t religiously watch one film a week, I will end up having to watch films around the clock in order to be able to achieve it.

There is no point in complaining. I set these challenge myself. Here is what I have recently ticked off the list!

24. It’s a Wonderful Life

This was a beautiful and romantic film. I can’t believe I haven’t seen it before. I think this film is on TV every year at Christmas but I never had any interest to watch it. It’s an old film from the 1920s and it reminded me a bit of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. Although it was made years and years ago, the themes of the film (corruption, betrayal and economic difficulties) are still relevant today. It was a bit odd to watch this in March when there is so much snow and Christmas trees in the snow but I am now wishing it was Christmas so that I can watch it again.

70. Citizen Kane

This is one of the most critically acclaimed films of all times. It’s the mystery story of a newspaper mogul whose dying word is “rosebud”. The story flips back and forth between different periods of time as a reporter sets about to investigate the meaning of his dying word. He uncovers the truth about the humble beginnings of the wealthy newspaper publisher and his earlier life. The meaning of the word “rosebud” remains elusive but is revealed to the audience at the end of the film.

I feel like I should have enjoyed this film a lot more than I thought I should have. I’m glad that I watched it because of how highly it is regarded and because it was Orson Welles’ first film (who I only thought was an author) but I am not sure that I would make a beeline to watch it again.

99. 3 Idiots

This was a hard film to find with English subtitles. The film is a Bollywood film and most of the speech is in Hindi but it does occasionally switch to English mid-sentence. I thought that all Bollywood films were just about dancing and having fun but there is a suicide in this one, which I wasn’t expecting. The story is about 3 friends who meet in engineering college. The inevitable boy meets girl, boy rebels against the norms of the college and a twist about the identity of one of the friends feature heavily through the film. Some parts of the film had me laughing out loud. Very clever and funny.

214. The Princess Bride

This is a film from the 80s that I have never heard of before but I recognised most of the cast from other 80s films and TV series. My main issue with this film was that I wasn’t sure what the films audience was. It was like a cross between a kids film, a romance and a slapstick. The story itself wasn’t bad per se but some parts of it, especially the animation of animals was really dated. I’m not sure why this film managed to get to this high a position in the list. I personally think that it is taking the place of a much more deserving film.

242. The Help

This was a great film and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was about the story of a small town in Mississippi and the ambitions of a young writer, who exposed the racism experienced by ‘the help’ at the hands of affluent white families. Some of the film was tragic and other bits had me laughing out loud. It was based on a true stories and I always find films based on true stories more interesting.

I have now watched 94 out of the 250 films. Slowly but surely I will get there…

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